Bruce Arians: Beleaguered Bucs defense ‘not meshing very well’

Tampa Bay ranks near the bottom of the NFL in several major defensive categories.
Published Sep. 27, 2021|Updated Sep. 27, 2021

Twelve quarters into a season that has grown mildly disconcerting, the Bucs defense has accounted for only three sacks and even fewer spared feelings.

Bruce Arians saw to the latter stat Monday, during his postmortem of the Bucs’ 34-24 loss to the Rams. After watching the tape of his unit getting mostly dissected by another unscathed quarterback, the Bucs coach called out some prominent guys, blasted technique and onfield communication, and even sprinkled an expletive or two on the whole hot mess.

A mess that wasn’t expected from a unit with a third-year coordinator (Todd Bowles) that returned every starter from last year’s Super Bowl title team.

“It was some communication and some just really bad technique,” Arians said. “They knew the coverage, they just played it really s---ty.”

The Bucs got only four hits (and one sack) Sunday on Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (343 yards, four touchdowns), who became the third opposing quarterback to throw for 300 yards in as many contests. But that lack of a pass rush is in part a result of the banged-up secondary’s failure to blanket receivers or alter routes.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford didn't face a ton of pressure from the Bucs defense on Sunday.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford didn't face a ton of pressure from the Bucs defense on Sunday. [ KEVORK DJANSEZIAN | Associated Press ]

The 338.3 passing yards Tampa Bay is surrendering per game ranks 31st in the league.

“The sacks are probably the biggest thing that disturbs me,” said Arians, whose team is tied for 30th. “Now, we’re getting close, we’re not finishing deals.

“We can’t ask for our secondary, especially with the shape it’s in, to go play a ton of man to man, which limits you, and the ball’s not going to be held for sacks to happen.

“So it’s a little bit of both. We’ve got to do a better job of getting some man-to-man pressures, and going in there and getting after the quarterback. And then also when we’re playing zone, we’ve got to get home. So the secondary and the front are just right now not meshing very well.”

If any defender warranted praise Monday, Arians said it was cornerbacks Dee Delaney and Ross Cockrell, both thrust into full-time roles with Sean Murphy-Bunting (elbow) injured in the season opener and Jamel Dean (knee) sidelined early Sunday.

Delaney, a special teams fixture who played four defensive snaps in the NFL prior to this season, played 53 against the Rams. Cockrell, a converted safety, played 57.

“(Delaney) gave up one play (a short Cooper Kupp touchdown catch) where he got picked a little bit, but he might have played the best in the secondary that we had, and Ross Cockrell probably was next best,” Arians said. “The rest of the guys, they need to pick it up. And when we have interceptions right in our hands, we’ve got to catch them.”

Stay updated on the Buccaneers

Stay updated on the Buccaneers

Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter

We’ll deliver a roundup of news and commentary on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers weekly during the season.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options
Bucs defensive back Ross Cockrell, right, breaks up a pass intended for Rams wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
Bucs defensive back Ross Cockrell, right, breaks up a pass intended for Rams wide receiver DeSean Jackson. [ JAE C. HONG | Associated Press ]

That interception reference was to Dean, who dropped an early Stafford throw that was deflected right to his numbers.

Not that he was the only defender called out by his coach.

Arians acknowledged handsomely paid stars Shaquil Barrett (one sack, one pass deflection in three games), Lavonte David (no sacks, one quarterback hit) and Devin White (no sacks, four quarterback hits) must start making splashes.

“One sack’s not good enough,” Arians said of Barrett.

“Devin, he likes playing against the run and nobody’s going to do that anymore, so he’s got to get better at playing against the pass and get our hands (on the ball). Because we’re capable — both (White and David) are — of multiple-interception games. Both those guys can play better.”

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

Related: Is Tom Brady vs. Patriots the NFL's most hyped regular-season game ever?

From Super Bowl to cellar

A look at where the Bucs rank in some key defensive categories:

Total defense: 26th (402.0 yards/game)

Pass defense: 31st (338.3)

Scoring defense: 27th (29.3)

3rd-down defense: 29th (53.2 percent)

Sacks: T-30th (3)

Completion percentage: T-28th (72.2)

• • •

Sign up for the Bucs RedZone newsletter to get updates and analysis on the latest team and NFL news from Bucs beat writer Joey Knight.

Never miss out on the latest with the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, Florida college sports and more. Follow our Tampa Bay Times sports team on Twitter and Facebook.